Change agents

Peer learning workshops - some emerging ideas

I'm excited about ideas for peer learning workshops that have been bubbling away in my head and are beginning to take shape.

Focused, coachy, peer learning

I want to bring together sustainability people of various kinds, to be able to talk with each other about their challenges and ideas in a more expansive and easeful way than a conference allows. 

People really benefit from being able to think aloud in coaching conversations.  I've seen the transformations that can happen when supportive challenge prompts a new way of looking at things.

We also get so much from comparing our own experiences with peers: finding the common threads in individual contexts, exploring ideas about ways forward. 

I’d like to combine these things by making the peer learning available in smaller groups and smaller chunks, where the atmosphere is more like coaching. 

What's the idea?

The idea is to run half-day workshops, with between 6 and 10 people at each event. The intention is that they are safe and supporting spaces, where people can talk freely.  We'll meet in spaces that are relaxed, creative, private, energising and feel good to be in.  (More comfortable than the stone steps in the picture.)

Each workshop would have a theme, to help focus the conversations and make sure people who come along have enough in common for those conversations to be highly productive.

I'd run a few, on different themes, and people can come to one, some or all of them.  They don't have to come to them all, so the mix of people will be different for each workshop.

I'd charge fees, probably tiered pricing so that it's affordable for individuals and smaller not-for-profits, but commercial prices for bigger and for-profit organisations.

The content of each workshop will come from the participants, rather than me: my role is to facilitate the conversations, rather than to teach or train people.

Choices, dilemmas, testing

When I've tested this idea with a few people, many have said that the success of the workshops will depend on who else is there: people with experience, insight, credibility.  People they feel able to trust, before they commit to booking.  I think this is useful feedback.

On the other hand, I'm unsure about the best way to ensure this.  Is it enough to include a description of "who these workshops are for" and leave it to people to decide for themselves?   Or should I set up an application process of some kind: asking people who apply to include a short explanation of who they are, what their role and experience is, and why they want to come along.

If I set up an 'application' process, will that be off-putting to the naturally modest?  Too cumbersome?  Adding extra steps (apply, wait, get place confirmed, then pay...) feels risky: at each step, the pool of likely participants will get smaller.  Will this make the workshops unviable?  Who am I to choose, anyway?

Another option is to make the workshops 'by invitation' with people having the option of requesting an invitation for their friends, peers, colleagues - or even themselves.  This is what I'm leaning towards at the moment, based on gut feel.

Will this increase people's confidence in the workshops - that not just anyone gets a place, their peers will provide quality reflections and be people worth meeting? Will it make those people who do get an invitation feel special, better about themselves?

And will I really turn down anyone who asks for an invitation?  What will they feel?

I've set up a survey to gather views on this, as well as on the topics that will be most interesting to people.   Please let me know here where's there a short survey. Discounts and prizes available!

How it feels to experiment

I'm not a natural entrepreneur.  Some people love to experiment and learn from failure.  Fail faster.  Fail cheaper.  Intellectually I'm committed to experimenting with these workshops: testing out ideas about formats, marketing, pricing, venues, topic focus vs emergence, length, the amount of 'taught' content vs 'created' content and so on. 

Emotionally: not so much. I want to get everything right before I start (which is why it's taken me about six months to even get to this stage).  I'm getting great support from lots of people, and boy do I need it.  Even sitting here, I can feel the prickly, clammy, cold physical manifestations of the fear of failure. 

I need to move through the fear and into the phase of actually running some test workshops.  I know they'll be great.  I can see the smiles, feel the warmth, visualise the kind of room we're meeting in and the I already have the design and process clear.  I have a shelf of simple but beautiful props in my office.  I am 100% confident about the events themselves, it's the communications and administration of the marketing that freaks me out.

Learning from the learning

So already I'm learning.  About myself, about what people say they need, about how venues can be welcoming or off-putting, about how generous people are with their time and feedback.

She is Sustainable - sustaining the sustainers

Vertically, horizontally or circularly ambitious? Mothering or child-free, by choice or randomness? Urban or rural? Partnered for life or a free agent? Gay or straight or something else? Employed, entrepreneur or freelance?

Women who work in sustainability are all these things and more. 

She is Sustainable was invented by five UK-based sustainability women (Becky Willis, Solitaire Townsend, Amy Mount, Hannah Hislop and Melissa Miners) who thought

Every woman makes decisions about her career, her ambitions and her family. As five women who have shared their learnings, successes and failures, we know one thing for sure – there’s a lot we can learn from each other.
We want to take time out to talk about women and changing the world. Not about politics, but about personal lives and choices.
That’s why we organised She Is Sustainable: London in February 2016, a two-day gathering for women working in sustainability, allowing women to share their stories and take part in discussion sessions on all aspects of women’s work and life.

She is Sustainable spawns sprogs

Becky and the rest of the gang weren't intending or expecting that SiS would become a thing, but it has. There have been SiSs in Cambridge and Lancaster, organised on the same shoe-string lines, for love, to give younger women at the start of their sustainability careers a chance to hear from older women who've journeyed ahead of them and have a few of the battle scars to prove it.

I was lucky enough to get involved with SiS Lancaster, offering some facilitation support while I mulled on my own life and my idea for a SiS for older women.  I can see links with coaching, with peer learning and with the kind of support that sustainability change agents are crying out for, in my experience.

academic insights

The Lancaster event was beautifully organised by Becky Willis and Jess Phoenix, with support from the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business, part of the Lancaster University.  Being run at the university meant that we got to hear from some brilliant women who could bring us rigorous academic insight into gender and sustainability leadership. 

Prof. Judi Marshall, whose work on the lived experience of being a sustainability change agent I've admired for years, shared insights on 'insider outsiders' and the role of gender in this. The cultural assumption and unconscious bias about the credibility and prestige of men means that there are difficult choices to be made about guest speakers at events: in the short term, is it better for our cause to have male contributors, because people will listen to them more?

We also heard from Prof. Gail Whiteman about the uncomfortable experiences early in her career which were "precious" because "they tell you what's important to you". Gail set up the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business and is bringing arctic ice to the attention of global boardrooms.  Literally. She's got plans to establish an arctic base camp at the World Economic Forum at Davos. Now that I'd like to see.

To complete the trio of professors, Prof. Caroline Gatrell shared stats on the place of women in leadership including the glass cliff: women are more likely to access top positions during periods of crisis or risk.  Maybe it's because they are seen as more creative or more safe. Maybe it's because they are seen as expendable. Theresa May springs to mind, as do Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman who have both 'held the fort' for Labour between 'proper' leaders.

what was it like?

As well as these insights from academic research (and the academic life), She is Sustainable made room for more personal life stories from older women, and lots of sharing among participants. The atmosphere was so warm and supportive, as well as being inspirational.  Younger women heard from older women and from each other about their careers in sustainability and how these interwove with life choices and unchosen circumstances.

We spoke together about following your heart and using your head, about finding your place and moving on. We shared experiences about balancing career with caring responsbilities, and about the different kinds of women we can be and want (or don't want) to be.

We used random everyday objects to open up about how we see ourselves as women who work in sustainability.

The world's most disappointing tombola...

The world's most disappointing tombola...

 

Speaking about the unspoken

I was lucky enough to facilitate two open space sessions, where topics were proposed which perhaps might not have been if the group had not been women-only.  Yes, there really was a session on periods and yes, there really was quite a lot to be shared and discussed about the impact of menstruation on work.

There was everyday sexism in the stories: the woman whose junior male colleague was addressed as the boss all the way through a business meeting; the casual assumptions about who will take the notes and make the tea. 

And there was conversation about racism, ethnicity and being a woman of colour in the sustainability field.

Yes, we did talk about periods in the open space session.

She is (still) sustainable

I went along partly to test out my guess that SiS could be tweaked a bit to provide a brilliant way for older women to discuss their choices: if you're mid-career, would it be useful to consider what's next?  Perhaps it's an "after children" conversation, or perhaps one about daring to take the next step upwards or sideways. Perhaps it's about being ready to change direction, to slow down or branch out.  or to take on your biggest challenge yet. Perhaps its about how you keep credible and energetic when your body is starting to let you down.  

I don't know what the conversations are that sustainability women at this later stage will want to have, but I do know that there was enthusiasm for the idea when I tested it, and I am brimming with ideas about how to adjust the SiS approach for this group of women. 

Let me know what you think!

DareMini

So DareConfMini was a bit amazing. What a day. Highlights:

  • Follow your jealousy from Elizabeth McGuane
  • Situational leadership for ordinary managers from Meri Williams
  • The challenge of applying the great advice you give to clients, to your own work and practice from Rob Hinchcliffe
  • Finding something to like about the people who wind you up the most from Chris Atherton
  • Being brave enough to reveal your weaknesses from Tim Chilvers
  • Jungian archetypes to help you make and stick to commitments from Gabriel Smy
  • Radical challenges to management orthodoxy from Lee Bryant
  • Meeting such interesting people at the after party

No doubt things will continue to churn and emerge for me as it all settles down, and I'll blog accordingly.

In the meantime, all the videos and slides can be watched here and there are some great graphic summaries here (from Francis Rowland) and here (from Elisabeth Irgens)

There are also longer posts than mine from Charlie Peverett at Neo Be Brave! Lessons from Dare and Banish the January blues – be brave and get talking from Emma Allen.

If you are inspired to go to DareConf in September, early bird with substantial discounts are available until 17th February.

Many thanks to the amazing Jonathan Kahn and Rhiannon Walton who are amazing event organisers - and it's not even their day job. They looked after speakers very well and I got to realise a childhood fantasy of dancing at Sadler's Wells. David Caines drew the pictures.

 

I learn it from a book

Manuel, the hapless and put-upon waiter at Fawlty Towers, was diligent in learning English, despite the terrible line-management skills of Basil Fawlty.  As well as practising in the real world, he is learning from a book. Crude racial stereotypes aside, this is a useful reminder that books can only take us so far.  And the same is true of Working Collaboratively.  To speak collaboration like a native takes real-world experience.  You need the courage to practise out loud.

The map is not the territory

The other thing about learning from a book is that you'll get stories, tips, frameworks and tools, but when you begin to use them you won't necessarily get the expected results.  Not in conversation with someone whose mother tongue you are struggling with, and not when you are exploring collaboration.

Because the phrase book is not the language and the map is not the territory.

Working collaboratively: a health warning

So if you do get hold of a copy of Working Collaboratively (and readers of this blog get 15% off with code PWP15) and begin to apply some of the advice: expect the unexpected.

There's an inherent difficulty in 'taught' or 'told' learning, which doesn't occur in quite the same way in more freeform 'learner led' approaches like action learning or coaching.  When you put together a training course or write a book, you need to give it a narrative structure that's satisfying.  You need to follow a thread, rather than jumping around the way reality does.  Even now, none of the examples I feature in the book would feel they have completed their work or fully cracked how to collaborate.

That applies especially to the newest ones: Sustainable Shipping Initiative or the various collaborators experimenting with catchment level working in England.

Yours will be unique

So don't feel you've done it wrong if your pattern isn't the same, or the journey doesn't seem as smooth, with as clear a narrative arc as some of those described in the book.

And when you've accumulated a bit of hindsight, share it with others: what worked, for you? What got in the way?  Which of the tools or frameworks helped you and which make no sense, now you look back at what you've achieved?

Do let me know...

Working collaboratively: world premiere!

So it's here! A mere nine months after first being contacted by Nick Bellorini of DōSustainability, my e-book on collaboration is out!

Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging on some of the things that really struck me about writing it and that I'm still chewing over.  In the meantime, I just wanted to let you know that it's out there, and you, dear reader, can get it with 15% off if you use the code PWP15 when you order it. See more here.

It's an e-book - and here's something cool for the dematerialisation and sharing economy geeks: you can rent it for 48 hours, just like a film!  Since it's supposed to be a 90 minute read, that should work just fine.

Thanks!

And I couldn't have done it without the wonderful colleagues, clients, peers, critics, fellow explorers and tea-makers who helped out.

Andrew Acland, Cath Beaver, Craig Bennett, Fiona Bowles, Cath Brooks, Signe Bruun Jensen, Ken Caplan, Niamh Carey, Lindsey Colbourne, Stephanie Draper, Lindsay Evans, James Farrell, Chris Grieve, Michael Guthrie, Charlotte Millar, Paula Orr, Helena Poldervaart, Chris Pomfret, Jonathon Porritt, Keith Richards, Clare Twigger-Ross, Neil Verlander, Lynn Wetenhall; others at the Environment Agency; people who have been involved in the piloting of the Catchment Based Approach in England in particular in the Lower Lee, Tidal Thames and Brent; and others who joined in with an InterAct Networks peer learning day on collaboration.

Water wise: different priorities need different targeted engagement

For Diageo, the drinks company, agricultural suppliers typically represent more than 90% of its water footprint, so of course it's vital that the company’s water strategy looks beyond its own four walls to consider sustainable water management and risks in the supply chain. By contrast, what matters most for Unilever in tackling its global water footprint is reducing consumers’ water use when they are doing laundry, showering and washing their hair, particularly in countries where water is scarce. Asking office staff to report dripping taps will contribute to the firm’s water efficiency, but it is much less useful than innovating a generation of products that use less water for cleaning.

Once you know what the main water-using phases are in your product or service system, you can prioritise and target. the audiences you want to engage.

This article in the environmentalist looks at the questions you need to ask yourself, to work out how to engage people in water efficiency.  You can download it here or read it online on the environmentalist's website (you may need to log in or sign up for a free trial to read it online).

Reflecting on a change that happened

Here's a nice exercise you can try, to help people base their thinking about organisational change on real evidence. Running workshop sessions on organisational change is a core part of my contribution to the various programmes run by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership.  This week, a group of people from one multi-national organisation met in Cambridge to further their own learning on sustainability and organisational responses to it.  My brief was to introduce them to a little theory on organisational change, and help them apply it to their own situation.

Theory is all very well - I love a good model or framework.  But sometimes people struggle to make the links to their experience, or they use descriptive models as if they were instructions.

This exercise gave them time to consider their direct experience of organisational change before the theory was introduced, so that they had rich evidence to draw on when engaging critically with the theory.

Step one - a change that happened

At tables, I asked them to identify a change that has happened in their organisation, of the same scale and significance as they think is needed in relation to sustainable development.  All of the tables looked at some variation of the organisation's response to dramatically changing market conditions (engaging with a different customer base, redundancies).

Step Two - four sets of questions

I then asked the groups to discuss how this change really happened (not how the organisation's change policy manual said it should have happened).  I offered four sets of questions:

  • First inklings e.g. How did you know the change was coming? How did it begin? What happened before that? What happened after that? What changed first?
  •  People e.g. Who were the main characters who helped the change to happen? Who tried to stop it happening? Who was enthusiastic? Who was cynical? Who was worried?
  •  Momentum and confirmation e.g. What happened that provided confirmation that this change really is going to happen, that it’s not just talk? How was momentum maintained? What happened to win over the people who were unhappy?
  • Completion and continuation e.g. Is the change complete, or are things still changing?  How will (did) you know the change is complete?

Step Three - debrief

Discussions at tables went on for about 20 minutes, and then we debriefed in plenary.

I invited people to share surprises.  Some of the surprises included the most senior person in the room realising that decisions made in leadership team meetings were seen as significant and directly influenced the way people did things - before the exercise, he had assumed that people didn't take much notice.

I also invited people to identify the things that confirmed that 'they really mean it', which seems to me to be a key tipping point in change for sustainability.  Some of the evidence that people used to assess whether 'they really mean it' was interesting: the legal department drafting a new type of standard contract to reflect a new type of customer base; different kinds of people being invited to client engagement events.  These 'artifacts' seemed significant and were ways in which the change became formalised and echoed in multiple places.

After the evidence, the theory

When I then introduced Schein's three levels of culture - still one of my favourite bits of organisational theory - the group could really see how this related to change.

Let me know how you get on, if you try this.

 

Leadership teams for collaboration

"Who will make sure it doesn't fall over?"

This was a question posed by someone in a workshop I facilitated, which brought together stakeholders (potential collaborators) who shared an interest in a water catchment.

It was a good question. In a collaboration, where equality between organisations is a value - and the pragmatic as well as philosophical truth is that everyone is only involved because they choose to be - what constitutes leadership? How do you avoid no-one taking responsibility because everyone is sharing responsibility?

If the collaboration stops moving forwards, like a bicycle it will be in danger of falling over.  Who will step forward to right it again, give it a push and help it regain momentum?

Luxurious reading time

I've been doing some reading, in preparating for writing a slim volume on collaboration for the lovely people over at DōSustainability. (Update: published July 2013.) It's been rather lovely to browse the internet, following my nose from reference to reference.  I found some great academic papers, including "Collaborative Governance in Theory and Practice" by Chris Ansell and Alison Gash.  This paper is based on a review of 137 case studies, and draws out what the authors call 'critical variables' which influence the success of attempts at collaborative governance.

It's worth just pausing to notice that this paper focuses on 'collaborative governance', which you could characterise as when stakeholders come together to make decisions about what some other organisation is going to do (e.g. agree a management plan for a nature reserve ), to contrast it with other kinds of collaboration where the stakeholders who choose to collaborate are making decisions about what they themselves will do, to further the common or complementary aims of the collaboration (e.g. the emerging work of Tasting the Future).

Leadership as a critical variable

Ansell and Gash identify leadership as one of these critical variables.  They say:

"Although 'unassisted' negotiations are sometimes possible, the literature overwhelmingly finds that facilitative leadership is important for bringing stakeholders together and getting them to engage each other in a collaborative spirit."

What kind of person can provide this facilitative leadership?  Do they have to be disinterested, in the manner of an agenda-neutral facilitator?  Or do they have to be a figure with credibility and power within the system, to provide a sense of agency to the collaboration?

Interestingly, Ansell and Gash think both are needed, depending on whether power is distributed relatively equally or relatively unequally among the potential collaborators.  It's worth quoting at some length here:

"Where conflict is high and trust is low, but power distribution is relatively equal and stakeholders have an incentive to participate, then collaborative governance can successfully proceed by relying on the services of an honest broker that the respective stakeholders accept and trust."

This honest broker will pay attention to process and remain 'above the fray' - a facilitator or mediator.

"Where power distribution is more asymmetric or incentives to participate are weak or asymmetric, then collaborative governance is more likely to succeed if there is a strong "organic" leader who commands the respect and trust of the various stakeholders at the outset of the process."

An organic leader emerges from among the stakeholders, and my reading of the paper suggests that their strength may come from the power and credibility of their organisation as well as personal qualities like technical knowledge, charisma and so on.

While you can buy in a neutral facilitator (if you have the resource to do so), you cannot invent a trusted, powerful 'organic' leader if they are not already in the system. Ansell and Gash note "an implication of this contingency is that the possibility for effective collaboration may be seriously constrained by a lack of leadership."

Policy framework for collaboration

I'm also interested in this right now, because of my involvement in the piloting of the Catchment Based Approach.  I have been supporting people both as a facilitator (honest broker) and by building the capacity of staff at the Environment Agency to work collaboratively and 'host' or 'lead' collaborative work in some of the pilot catchments.  The former role has been mainly with Dialogue by Design, and latter with InterAct Networks.

One of the things that has been explored in these pilots, is what the differences are when the collaboration is hosted by the Environment Agency, and when it is hosted by another organisation, as in for example Your Tidal Thames or the Brent Catchment Partnership.

There was a well-attended conference on February 14th, where preliminary results were shared and Defra officials talked about what may happen next. The policy framework which Defra is due to set out in the Spring of 2013 will have important implications for where the facilitative leadership comes from.

One of the phrases used in Defra's presentation was 'independent host' and another was 'facilitator'.  It's not yet clear what Defra might mean by these two phrases.  I immediately wondered: independent of what, or of whom?  Might this point towards the more agenda-neutral facilitator, the honest broker?  If so, how will this be resourced?

I am thoughtful about whether these catchments might have the characteristics where the Ansell and Gash's honest broker will succeed, or whether they have characteristics which indicate an organic leader is needed.  Perhaps both would be useful, working together in a leadership team.

Those designing the policy framework could do worse than read this paper.

What's it like from the inside?

You're trying to get your organisation to use sustainability thinking (social justice, ethics, environmental limits) to inform its strategy and practice. It can feel lonely. But you are not alone!  There are thousands of sustainability change makers just like you in other organisations.  What do your peers think and feel about this journey you are making apart, together? This survey gives a glimpse of how they see themselves, and the challenges they face. (Or, of how you see yourselves, since I expect some readers of this blog took part in the survey. Thanks!)

(Greener Management International has published the full article and you can read it here.  There are other fascinating pieces in the same edition, including a couple on labeling / certification, and on organisational change strategies.)

Here are some of the headlines.

Just a job, or part of a wider movement?

The people who took part in the survey are working for change towards sustainability either as (part of) their job or through some recognised network of champions.  But they do not see this as 'just a job'.  Over 95% of them agreed with these two statements about why they do this work.

I want to do work which is in line with my values and interests.

It is my contribution to a wider change in society which I think needs to happen.

Are they changing their organisations?

So how are they doing: are their organisations changing? People used the Dunphy scale to show where their organisation was when they joined it and where they think it is now.  They do indeed think that their organisations are changing, and mostly in the right direction!  There has been a clear shift towards the right of Dunphy’s spectrum, and those respondents who have been in their organisation for longer have seen it move further, in line with what you'd hope and expect.

How much change is needed?

What's the perspective of these change agents, on how much change is needed?  I asked:

To respond adequately to the challenge of sustainable development, how much change is needed?

These people think that radical, far-reaching change is needed in society as a whole, and substantial change is needed in their own organisations.

So the priority - where their skills and talents are most needed - is in the wider system.  Are they happy that their own organisations seem to be on track?   Not really.

Around 73% of organisational change agents for SD agreed or strongly agreed that they are dissatisfied with the pace and scale of change in their organisation.  These people agreed strongly that the pace or scale (and sometimes both) were dissatisfying:

I feel and I see that changes are coming in many parts of my organisation but this process is far too slow.

My organisation has a culture which is generally slow to change—it is large, bureaucratic and hierarchical.

They shared some fascinating perspectives on what it feels like to be a change agent in these circumstances.

A lovely dilemma: we know that change needs to be democratic, and based on others understanding the ‘whys’, to avoid trying another oppressive regime. Experience seems to indicate that this requires patience, but patience in the faith that our mere acts now, however small, may lead to an exponential explosion in the ‘right’ activities, just in time . ..  I now try to hold this tension very lightly and not let it distract me from what I’m doing day to day, in the moment. But I can’t pretend to be that successful at it . . .

With a perspective that this is a ‘human community’ not a machine! And that dissatisfaction needs to motivate (not frustration/anger etc.) and shape through positivity (not blind optimism or out-of-touchness) . . . And a personal sense of niche—what’s in my gift, power, influence etc. . . .

On being committed

We already know that our change agents see their work as 'more than just a job'.

How can climate change be just a job! I paraphrase Attenborough whose quote looms over my desk: ‘how could I look my child in the eye and say I knew what was happening to the world and did nothing’?

It is fantastic to feel passionate about my job. Having worked in this area, I now cannot see myself going back to a general management job even if that harms my promotion prospects.

It has to be a passion and something you believe in 100 per cent otherwise you can’t do the job properly, although I’ve had to learn to use the passion in presenting in a way that doesn’t scare the life out of people—in this country we still have a long, long journey.

You need to be really engaged in doing this and believe in it, if you are not the obstacles will be destructive for you personally and will demotivate you.

Does this 'life mission' attitude cause problems for them at work?  Actually, only a minority said that it had (17% with their boss, 25% with colleagues).  People said things like:

My boss is very ‘realistic’. He’s not big on challenging the current system etc. He has described his purpose as to be a ‘wet blanket’ on a lot of my ideas! At first I found this demotivating, but now I’ve tried to take the view that if I can persuade him of something, I can probably convince the rest of my organisation.

There is a danger that some may see some activities as a crusade, and so are not comfortable with this. Fortunately these people don’t fit the corporate vision and we can refer them back to the business case with the support of our top management. We recognise, reward and extol exemplar performance.

 Am I making enough difference?

The responses are fairly evenly matched, with slightly more people satisfied with the difference they are making, but still a large minority disatisfied.

Reflections from some respondents showed a rather grudging or partial sense of satisfaction:

‘Enough of a difference’—well no, but no point in beating myself up and trading on guilt/fear—do that for too long (somewhat disagree).

I would like to make more of a difference, but feel that I’m doing what I can. More support from senior business managers would have much more of a positive impact than they realise. And not just financial support, actually understanding sustainable development and making positive contributions to it (somewhat disagree).

Changing the system

Some respondents expressed a sophisticated appreciation of the emergent and messy nature of system level change.

I think the struggle is needing to be seen to have an answer to a ‘wicked’ question. This need for ‘expertise’ and ‘answers’ may be better served by admitting we don’t know and then working together on potential solutions.

This understanding of change as emergent and systemic is not always easy to explain to colleagues and it may be hard to justify or have a sense of progress when working within this frame.

The change will be continuing, as sustainability is not an end state but a continual journey of improvement against ever increasing public perceptions of what is expected. This is a hard sell within an organisation!

I tend to work with people who have a common view that we are a catalyst for systemic change and our role is to convene and enable others to take innovative action towards that . . . this view is not shared by everyone in the organisation and this is where the tension comes in and the need to translate our work.

We are stuck in a world where mechanistic, linear approaches are foisted onto complex, systemic problems. This is where the tension lies for those involved in bridging this.

Some conclusions

  • Our change agents believe that a very great deal of change is needed, to get on to the path to sustainability.
  •  They see change happening in their own organisations, but most of them do not think this change is rapid enough or seeks to go far enough.
  • Our change agents do experience tensions. The biggest is the concern about the pace and scale of change in their organisation, and the second biggest is the difficulty of finding solutions which have both a business case and a values case.
  • Some change agents find the paradigm of ‘solutions’ unhelpful: they see the change endeavour of which they are a part as systemic and emergent, rather than incremental and linear.
  • This in itself can lead to tensions: how to tell if progressis being made, how to keep up colleagues’ morale and how to sell this approachto colleagues.
  • Deciding the focus of change efforts and being a person who sees sustainability as ‘more than just a job’ are not a source of significant tension for most change agents, although many experience these tensions from time to time.

Fortunately, our change agents are not daunted by these tensions: they accept them as something which goes with the territory.  Keep on keeping on, please!

This blog is based on "What's it like from the inside? The Challenges of Being an Organisational Change Agent for Sustainability" by Penny Walker, published in Greener Management International 57, May 2012.

Update

There's a fascinating account of the results of a much more in-depth piece of research by Christopher Wright, Daniel Nyberg and David Grant of the University of Sydney.  They interviewed thirty six people who were "were either in designated positions in major Australian and global corporations as sustainability managers, or were working as external consultants advising about environmental sustainability", which is a similar set of professionals as in my survey.  They distilled (or discerned) three distinct but related 'identities' : green change agent, rational manager and committed activist. They also found five narrative 'genres': achievement, transformation, epiphany, sacrifice and adversity.  Well worth a close read, especially if you are a 'hippy on the third floor'.

The Accompanist

Much food for thought at the joint AMED / IAF Europe 'building bridges' facilitation day last week. I find myself day dreaming and speculating about a particular kind of helping role: the accompanist.

Vicky Cosstick mentioned this in passing, when setting up her session on the glimpses of the future of facilitation.  Early in her career, Vicky played this role as part of her training.   The role apparently has its origins in spiritual practice, although I'd not come across the term used in this way before.

What does an accompanist do?

The role involves minimal intervention.  You attend the work of the group and listen.  You write up to a maximum of one page of observations.  You pose two or three open questions as part of that.  The group can choose to do something with these, or not.

It reminded me of the practice that Edgar Schein describes in Organisational Culture and Leadership, where he too spends much of his time observing.

What a wonderful way to work with a client / self.

What's the minimum we can do, to help?

(Dis)engaging staff

"Who do they think they are preaching to?"

A visit to a client's canteen earlier this week brought me face-to-face with one extremely disgruntled staff member. In the queue, my contact pointed out the points-based reward system staff can now choose to join, which incentivises choosing a meat-free or meat-and-dairy-free meal. Like a coffee-shop loyalty card, you accumulate points and get mystery prizes. The explicit motivation is calorie-reduction and carbon-reduction: a vegan meal has, it is explained, a lower carbon footprint and is better for you.

Bottled up discontent

I asked whether there had been any controversy about the scheme, knowing that promoting a lower-impact or reduced-meat diet is considered very hard in this Defra research.  Behind us, a member of staff neither of us knew spat out

"Well you're not allowed to disagree around here!"

She continued:

"Who do they think they're preaching to?  What makes them think they're always right? What do they think they're doing interfering with our private lives?"

She was clearly very angry about it.

The organisation in question is one which has a public and explicit commitment to a low-carbon future, and it could be expected that a high proportion of staff are personally committed to reducing their environmental impact.  So this reaction was surprising.

Unpacking the outburst

I think it's worth unpacking the points, to see if there's something to be learnt about engaging staff in this kind of impact-reduction activity:

  • 'Preaching' is a word often used when the recipient of the message considers themselves to be at least as 'ethical', if not more, than the person transmitting the message.  Perhaps this staff member considers herself to already have a strong personal set of ethics and practices, and resents the perceived implication that she needs to be told to do more.  Perhaps she is unhappy about the way the organisation approaches its corporate impacts, and resents being asked to make a personal change when she thinks not enough is happening at the bigger level.
  • 'What makes them think they are always right?'  I wonder if there was an opportunity for knowledgeable people within the organisation to challenge the underlying generalisation that meat-free is healthier or better from a carbon perspective, or to contribute to developing the project. Perhaps this person has specialist knowledge which leads her to be uncomfortable with this simplification?
  • 'Interfering with private lives'.  This is an interesting one. The setting for this initiative is a staff canteen, possibly (I don't know) subsidised by the employer.  People are not obliged to eat there, although it is cheaper and more convenient than going to local cafes.  The scheme is voluntary, and around 1/3 of the staff have joined it. the scheme includes small incentives for 'better' choices, but there are no disincentives for 'poor' choices.  Previous initiatives include asking people to use the stairs rather than the lift, and switching off equipment when not in use. These have been successful in reducing energy use in the buildings.  What is it about eating, which makes it feel part of this person's 'private life'?
  • 'You can't disagree around here'. This is a big problem in any organisation. When disagreement is counter-cultural to the point where a member of staff blurts it out to a stranger...  There's something unhealthy about a level of top-down orthodoxy which means that it does not feel safe to say no.  Every organisation needs mechanisms and culture which enable authentic conversation (this does not mean that every decision needs to be unanimous).

One dissenter?

Perhaps it doesn't matter that this one person feels this way.  After all, staff take-up of the initiative seems pretty high, and the person I was meeting was an enthusiastic user of the points scheme.

Or this one person could be giving voice to concerns and needs which are shared more widely.  If it's really the case that people find it very hard to tell colleagues that they disagree, then it will be hard to know.

Engage with resistance

Peggy Holman maintains that we serve our goals best when we engage with those who disagree and dissent.  Seek out difference, listen harder, enquire into the needs and concerns which are being offered as a gift into the conversation, understand the common aims and see where a 'yes, and' response might lead.

Richard Seel similarly champions diversity as a critical condition for emergence of new ways of doing things.

Let's reflect together

What else might have been going on here? What could the scheme designers have done to avoid this? And what can they do now, to respond?

Let me know what you think...

 

 

Holding nested tensions - doing and waiting

Many strands of work at the moment share a theme of putting in place the conditions for collaboration, and then waiting for something to happen.

The work

I'm working with a colleague to train people from a large state body to pilot a collaborative approach to delivering one of their legal duties.  There is pressure - from managers who don't quite get it - to have clear timetables and plans, for action to be delivered.  But while you can call on hierarchy and processes to get the job done within your own organisation, you can't tell collaborators what to do. And collaboration relies on genuinely compelling outcomes which are shared by more than one party. You can't magic those out of the air.  Our client organisation is in a position to be very clear about its own 'compelling outcomes' on the basis of a technical evidence base and legal duties.  Whether there are potential collaborators out there who share any of those compelling outcomes is one of the early questions which needs exploration.

Another strand of work is a multi-stakeholder initiative (it's hard to know how to describe it) where the convenors are using all of the good practice they know to bring people together in a spirit of enquiry and good will, to discover whether there are collaborations waiting to emerge. Participants share a sense that the current system of which they are a part is not sustainable. They may not agree about the bits which are problematic or what a sustainable version would look like.  Some of them are more natural bedfellows than others.

I'm in a curious ambiguous role as a participant in this initiative, and a 'friend of the process'.  Do I have a role as supporting the convenors? Am I in a privileged observer role, able to spot what's getting in the way and then leaving them to do something about it? Or might I choose to take more ownership and responsibility, doing something about the process myself?  (Let alone doing something about the system which we are there to change.)

Metaphors to understand the delicacy

I'm struggling to find metaphors to help explain the difference between project planning, and planning for (and then stewarding) collaborative emergence.

If you've looked after toddlers, you'll know the phenomenon of two children playing quite happily side by side, but with no interaction.  No matter how skillfully the grown-up coaxes, if they aren't ready to play together it's not going to happen.

Perhaps it's also like growing particularly temperamental plants, like orchids.  Sometimes it just doesn't work out.

Or internet dating. You set criteria and find lots of potential matches.  Everything looks promising.  And then the magic is either there or it's not. You can't make it happen through an act of will.

Or nursing a sick person: you intervene and you comfort. Sometimes it's enough to just sit next to their bed while their body gets on with doing something about the illness.

Collaboration for system change

All of these possible analogies imply someone outside of the process who is trying to get others to 'play nicely' (except the dating one). This seems unsatisfactory. Collaboration comes because the collaborators both really want to accomplish something which they can't do by themselves.  Layer on to that the unknowability of system level change, and sometimes it will take a lot of discussion, exploration and false-starts to find action which people take together which they hypothesise will lead to the right kind of change.

How do you know if you're using your time well?

This question arises in different guises.

In the large state-funded body, where the people running the collaborative experiments are very new to this way of working, there is a need to justify the way they are working to their own line managers, and to the team who are holding the experiment in the middle. At some point in the future, evaluation and the main external 'client' will want to know too.

In the system-level initiative, the hosting body needs to know that funds and staff time are being well used, and all the participants will be making daily choices about whether to be active or whether to sit on the sidelines.

I ran a workshop for a well-known NGO some years ago, helping them to shape their internal monitoring and assessment process so that it would be fit for keeping an eye on complex emergent system change.  We had a fascinating day, but it was hard to come to conclusions about KPIs or management information to gather which would be meaningful in helping the team decide what to do, or in helping the organisation decide whether to keep an area of work going.  So much would come down to professional judgement, trust and even intuition.

And the question arises for individual change agents, as I have seen over the course of all my work in independent practice: am I doing the right things? is change happening fast enough, far enough, deep enough, wide enough?  This is one of the four tensions which were explored in my paper for the EABIS Colloquium in 2008.

Frameworks, checklists, dance moves

In the training, we are using some great frameworks and checklists to help conceptualise the choices and possibilities which stakeholders are faced with, when exploring collaboration.

We have a spectrum of collaborative working, from information sharing to full mainstreaming of the shared compelling outcome in both (all) the collaborating organisations.

We have a two-by-two matrix plotting whether, for a given compelling outcome, the organisation in question can accomplish it alone or can only do it with others; against whether there are any 'others' who want to collaborate to achieve that outcome.

We have guidance on what to think about when setting up a 'holding group' to keep an overview of the collaborative work.

At some point this will come into the public domain and I'll add links.

And we also know, from experience and the writings of others, that sometimes all you can do is put in place the conditions, hold a process lightly and then wait.  (Or stumble forward.)

If not me, then who? Leadership and sustainable development

Holding out for a hero

We’re in a hole and we’re not making headway on the huge challenges that face us as a species and as a society.  Our so-called leaders shy away from action which isn’t incremental and easy.  We’re caught in a web of interlocking dependencies shoring up the status quo.  And meanwhile environmental limits are being breached every way we turn.  Why doesn’t somebody DO SOMETHING?

But hang on, what if we are the people we’ve been waiting for?

We, too, can be tempered radicals, positive deviants or social intrapreneurs – different labels for essentially the same ambiguous role: change makers on the inside of our organisation or community, wherever this may be.

This antidote to ‘great man’ leadership is explored in two books: The Positive Deviant (Parkin) helps you prepare and plan, Leadership for Sustainability (Marshall et al) is an edited collection of tales from fellow travellers, shared with a degree of honesty and openness which is unexpected outside the safety of a coaching conversation.

Who will show leadership?

Both books rightly assert that leadership can come from anywhere.  The leader may be the boss, but leadership is something any of us can practice.  And that’s lucky, because we need whole systems to change, not just individual organisations.  And systems don’t have a boss.  Leadership is necessarily distributed throughout the system, even if some people have more power than others.

Parkin’s positive deviant is someone who does the right thing

despite being surrounded by the wrong institutions, the wrong processes and stubbornly uncooperative people”.

They work to change the rules of the game.  Rather than waiting for stepping stones to appear they chuck in rocks, building a path for others as they go.

Effective leadership comes from surprising places within hierarchical structures, and can arise in situations where there isn’t any formal organisation at all.  This makes the positive deviant quite close to the tempered radical, yet Meyerson's work is a surprising omission from Parkin's index and bibliography.

Marshall et al see leadership

“as much [in] the vigilante consumer demanding to know where products have come from as [in] the chief executive promoting environmentally aware corporate practices.”

So none of us is off the hook.

What kind of leaders do we need?

If we are all in a position to show leadership, which qualities do we need to hone, to help us be really good at it?

Parkin is clear that we need to be ethical and effective.

Ethical

As Cooper points out in one of the chapters of Leadership for Sustainability, the scale of the transformation implied by how bad things are now means that doing things right is not enough: we need to do the right things.

It is not enough to show leadership merely in the service of your own organisation or community. With sustainability leadership the canvas is all humanity and the whole planet (All Life On Earth including Us, as Parkin puts it).  Regular readers of this blog, and participants on the Post-graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business will know that this is one of the distinctions I make between 'any old organisational change' and 'organisational change for sustainable development'.  See the slide 22 in the slide show here for more on this and other tensions for sustainability change makers.

To do this, the Positive Deviant has a ‘good enough’ understanding of a range of core sustainability information and concepts, and Parkin summarises a familiar set of priority subjects.  Less familiar are the snippets of sustainability literacy from classical antiquity which liven things up a bit: Cleopatra’s use of orange peel as a contraceptive and Plato’s observations of local climatic changes caused by overenthusiastic logging.

If you already know this big picture sustainability stuff, you may feel you can safely skip Parkin’s first, third and fourth section.  Not so fast.  I read these on the day DCLG published its risible presumption in favour of sustainable development.  DCLG’s failure to mention environmental limits and the equating of sustainable development with sustainable building is a caution: perhaps people who might be expected to have a good understanding of sustainability should read this section, whether they think they need it or not!

Effective

We need to understand the kinds of problems we’re facing.  Parkin offers use Grint’s useful sense-making triad to understand different kinds of problems which need different approaches:

  • tame (familiar, solvable, limited uncertainty),
  • wicked (more intractable, complex, lots of uncertainty, no clear solutions without downsides) and
  • critical (emergency, urgent, very large) problems.

The problems of unsustainability are very largely wicked (e.g. breaking environmental limits), and some are critical (e.g. extreme weather events).

Complex, uncertain and intractable situations require experimentation and agility, according to Marshall et al.  Parkin echoes this:

“By definition, we’ve not done sustainable development before ... so we are all learning as we go.”

Marshall et al go further:

“we doubt if change for sustainability can often be brought about by directed, intentional action, deliberately followed through.”

Superficial change may result, but not systemic transformation.  So leadership demands that we embrace uncertainty and release control.  This is pretty much what I'm trying to articulate here, so you'd expect me to agree. I do.

Parkin is dismissive of understandings of leadership in the context of chaos or distributed systems.  She may be right that it is a perverse choice to lead in this way if you are within an organisation which functions well in a predictable external context.  But as we have seen, leadership is most urgently required in situations which are much less simple than this, where there isn’t an obvious person with a mandate to be 'the leader'.  Dispersed leadership is a more accurate description of reality and a more practical theory in these situations.  There are some well-thought of organisational consultants and theorists worth reading on this.  For example Chris Rodgers and Richard Seel have both influenced my thinking.  AMED's Organisations&People journal regularly carries great articles if you want to explore this side of things.

From the installation of secret water-saving hippos in Cabinet Office (Goulden in Leadership for Sustainability) to John Bird setting up the Big Issue or Wangari Maathai founding of the "deliciously subversive" Green Belt Movement (some of Parkin’s choices as Positive Deviant role models), the reader can’t help but be personally challenged: how do I compare, in my leadership?  Am I ethical? Am I effective?

How will we get them?

How can we make ourselves more effective as leaders, where-ever we find ourselves?   How can we help others to show leadership?

These questions bring us to the educational and personal development aspect of these books.

Education and training

Leadership for Sustainability is a collection of personal stories gleaned from people who have been through the MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice at the University of Bath’s School of Management (succeeded by Ashridge Business School’s MSc in Sustainability and Responsibility and the MA in Leadership for Sustainability at Lancaster University School of Management).  Parkin designed Forum for the Future’s Masters in Leadership for Sustainable Development.  So you can expect that both books have something to say about how we educate our future leaders.

Parkin dissects the ways business schools have betrayed their students and the organisations they go on to lead.  Unquestioningly sticking to a narrow focus of value, not understanding the finite nature of the world we live in, and avoiding a critique of the purpose of business and economy, by and large they continue to produce future leaders with little or no appreciation of the crash they are contributing to.

Marshall and her colleagues have shown leadership in this field, using a Trojan horse approach by setting up their MSc in the heart of a traditional business school, and seeding other courses.  Positive deviance in practice!

Personal development

Formal training aside, we can all improve our sustainability leadership skills.

Parkin argues that as well as having a ‘good enough’ level of sustainability literacy, Positive Deviants need to practice four habits of thought.  These are:

  • Resilience – an understanding of ecosystems, environmental limits and their resilience, rather than the personal robustness of the change maker.
  • Relationships – understanding and strengthening the relationships between people, and between us and the ecosystems which support us.
  • Reflection – noticing the impact of our actions and changing what we do to be more effective, as a reflective practitioner.
  • Reverence – an awe for the universe of which we are a part

Action research

Of those four habits of thought, reflection is the one closest to the heart of Marshall’s Leadership for Sustainability approach.

Marshall, Coleman and Reason are committed to an action research approach, seeing it as

“an orientation towards research and practice in which engagement, curiosity and questioning are brought to bear on significant issues in the service of a better world.”

In her chapter, Downey reminds us of the ‘simple instruction at the heart’ of action research

“take action about something you care about, and learn from it.”

Marshall et al tell us that action research was central to the structure and tutoring on their MSc.  I have to confess to being unclear about the distinctions between action inquiry, action research and action learning.  Answers in the comments section, please!

Marshall et al’s action learning chapters are useful to anyone involved in helping develop others as managers, coaches, consultants, teachers, trainers and so on – required reading, in fact, for those wrong-headed business schools which Parkin criticises so vehemently.

The power of the action research approach shines through in the collection of twenty-nine stories, which made this book – despite the somewhat heavy going of the theoretical chapters – the most compelling sustainability book I’ve read in a long time.  People have taken action about things they care about, and they have learnt from it.

Their stories demonstrate that we encourage people to show leadership in part by allowing them to be humble and to experiment, not by pretending that only the perfect can show leadership.  The stories do not trumpet an approach or sell us a technique. They are travellers’ tales for people who’ll see themselves in the narrative, and be inspired and comforted by it.

What does it feel like, to be this kind of leader?

Does this kind of leader sound like you yet?  It could be – anyone can show leadership.  But perhaps you’re sceptical or looking for a reason why it can’t be you?  It sounds like a lot of hard work and there’s no guarantee of success.

Marshall and her colleagues on the MSc course have evidently created a safe space for people to reflect about their doubts and uncertainties as well as their hopes and insights.  Chapters including this kind of personal testimony from people like Gater, Bent and Karp are intriguing, dramatic and engaging.

Karp’s story about food procurement shows difference between action learning approach and leader as hero – she’s as open about the set-backs as the successes.

I instantly recognised Bent’s description of holding professional optimism with personal pessimism, and many people I know have had that same conversation: wondering where their bolt-hole will be, to escape the impacts of runaway climate change.

Gater’s story in a brilliantly honest account of his work within a mainstream financial institution, moving a certain distance and then coming up against a seemingly insurmountable systemic challenge.  In a model of authentic story-telling, he describes tensions I have heard so many organisational change agents express.  He talks about visiting his colleagues ‘in their world’ and inviting them to visit him in his.  At the end of his story, the two worlds remain unreconciled,

“but it was okay – I had done what I could do as well as I believe I could have done it, and that had to be enough.”

Concluding

Both books start from the premise that we can’t wait for others to show leadership – we need to show leadership from where we are.

But we know that’s hard: Downey reminds us that

“…those who protect the status quo get rewarded for the inaction that slows down change, while disturbers-of-the-peace who send warning signals are disparaged, demoted or dismissed.”

But for her that’s not an excuse to hang back:

“we are not too small, and there is no small act. Either way we shape what happens.”

Transparency alert: Penny Walker is an Associate of Forum for Future, of which Sara Parkin is a Founder Director.  Penny has also been a visiting speaker on the MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice run by Judi Marshall, Gill Coleman and Peter Reason, as well as being a tutor on what might be seen as a competitor course, the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business run by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership in conjunction with Forum for the Future.

A shorter version of this review was first published in Defra's SDScene, here.

Environmental professionals - getting the savvy of the change-maker

Back in March 2011, I enjoyed working with the IEMA to facilitate a workshop for environmental professionals, ably supported by Debbie Warrener. The workshop was organised to give some of the UK's most long-serving and successful internal environmental specialists a chance to share experiences of leadership around sustainable business practice, and collaboratively sketch out the skills environmental professionals need if they are to shift their organisations strategically towards sustainability. There were no presentations - it was a collaborative venture where everyone in the room had wisdom and expertise to contribute.

During the workshop they created a mind map of key skills. This was done very rapidly, following several rounds of discussing challenges successfully met and skills used in doing so.

I came across my notes of this mind map in the nether reaches of my filing pile just now, and it struck me as one of those things which you could work away at for a long time and not improve much.

So here it is.

I was really pleased to see how much was to do with interpersonal skills, influence, collaboration and mainstream management and leadership skills.  We have heaps of fantastically technically expert environmentalists working in organisations. Too often they are marginalised and lacking in power or influence. They can find themselves shaking their heads sadly at the decisions made by the people with power, who don't see the unsustainability of their actions or can't see how to change.  Combining technical excellence with the savvy of the change-maker is essential.

IEMA's current framework

IEMA have since developed a skills framework at a number of levels which draws on this work, and other research and engagement they have done with their members.  You can see it here and read more about how people are reacting to it here.

And there's another framework mentioned in this earlier blog post and the article it links to.

Update

In November 2011, IEMA's magazine published this, looking at the skills and aptitudes needed by some very senior sustainability people in UK businesses, and includes personal stories from a number.

"Engaging Emergence" - first impressions

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of Peggy Holman's new book, Engaging Emergence. Many readers will know Peggy as one of the authors of The Change Handbook, along with Tom Devane and Steven Cady. I read it in bursts, and every chapter has something comforting and challenging in it. Peggy asks

"What if tensions inspired curiosity? What if we knew how to express our anger, fear, or grief so that it contributed to something better?"

There's so much anger, fear and grief in conversations about ecosystem collapse.  I'd love it if that negative emotion could be composted into the fertile soil where new things grow.  There are positive reframings of disturbance and disruption.

I relished the permission she gives to let go of the things which bore or scare us, but which we do out of a misplaced sense of duty, and to embrace the aspects of the system which we are really interested in:

"Take responsibility for what you love as an act of service."

I am developing some training on collaboration at the moment, and this exhortation to hold what's important to you, whilst also deeply hearing what's important to other people will become a theme, I'm sure.

Collaborative writing

An interesting footnote on why I was sent a copy: Peggy wrote the book as a blog, and invited anyone who wanted to post comments.  Because I interacted with this, I was offered a copy.  Fascinating peer review process and marketing wheeze rolled up together.  The blog (now inactive) is here and the list of all those who helped out is here.

http://strategicengagement.webs.com/

A-Z of CSR - change management

A while back, that unstoppable author on CSR Wayne Visser invited me to write an entry on change management for the updated 2010 edition of his A-Z of Corporate Social Responsibility. What a great opportunity!  Not having a very clear picture of the readership, I began by justifying the inclusion of the topic.

Some businesses are very good at CSR. Others find it a struggle or are only just beginning. If you want to improve an organisation, then you want to change it. Sometimes the scale of improvement which environmental champions or others want to see is quite large. So far-reaching organisational change may be desired.

What do we know about how organisations change, and how organisational change can be managed - or catalysed and steered?

The article goes on to contrast ideas about planned organisational change with perspectives which see change as an emergent phenomenon.  It also looks at what changes, when an organisation changes, drawing on Schein's three levels of culture.

And as you'd expect, there are signposts to some practical advice.

What did I miss?

If I'm asked to do an update for a future edition, what changes should I make to the article?

Further reading

You can buy a copy here (NB Amazon don't seem to be able to distinguish this 2010 edition from the previous edition).

I've also posted a slide show which develops some of these thoughts, which you can reach via this blog entry.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration - some headline sources

This blog entry is written for a very specific reason: I've just advised a group of people to look at my blog for initial sources on multi-stakeholder collaboration... but reviewing the blog I realise that it'll be quite hard to find the things I mean, and some of them I haven't even written about yet! So, especially for them - and for you, dear other readers - here's a quick brain dump of key sources and ideas which I think form a good set of starting points, mostly from my own experience.  Which means that if you have other great resources to tell people about, please do post them in the comments box.

Examples

There are some really interesting examples from the UK of the Environment Agency spending quite a lot of time and resources thoughtfully engaging in conversations with communities and other stakeholders when considering flood defences and coastal erosion risk.  For example, Shaldon and Medmerry [transparency alert - I worked on the Medmerry project] where engagement with stakeholders was carefully planned so that people could influence the decisions which the project team was making as the plans developed. Both schemes are ongoing.  See for example this report from the UK's Sustainable Development Commission which includes Shaldon as an example, and this short case study from the Environment Agency on Shaldon.  A search using 'environment agency', shaldon, stakeholder and 'liaison group' will bring up other interesting views on the engagement approach and its success.There's a bit more about the EA's ground-breaking work in this area in this article on DAD/EDD.

Another place-specific collaborative approach is described in this article "Human Systems Intervention And The Natural Step" by Jenny Sardone & Magdalena Szpala, first published in AMED's Organisations and People journal. I believe that it's not available electronically, but I'm trying to chase down an e-version so I can link to it.

Much better known are the FSC and the MSC - now well-established multi-stakeholder organisations which tried to 'get the whole system in the room' to work out credible consensus-based criteria for what might be considered sustainable management of forest and marine resources.  They have had varying degrees of success over the years in getting buy-in from all the different interests (environmental, social, economic). I wrote about the MSC a few years ago, an article called plenty more fish in the sea.   Current examples include WWF-UK's Tasting the Future, Forum for the Future's work on tourism, and CPSL's work on both climate and insurance. Some of these have crystalised into organisations, others are more fluid than that: fellow travellers collaborating with intention.

Theories, techniques and patterns

Fascinating to ponder on what the circumstances are which bring about authentic whole-system engagement, and what you have to do to get the right people in the room in the first place, and then to keep up the momentum. The best resource I know of at the moment on this is Peggy Holman's Engaging Emergence.  But I'm sure there are lots of others: please help me collect them by posting your favourites in the comments box.

Favourite techniques which can help include World Cafe, Open Space Technology and Future Search. I've blogged about the first big Tasting the Future meeting here, which combined a number of techniques.

SDC resources on collaboration, dialogue, engagement

Since its demise, it's really hard to find the engagement resources on the SDC's website. So here are some direct links to some of them:

  • SDC's response to National Framework for Greater Citizen Engagement (2008)
  • Final report on the SDC's Supplier Obligation stakeholder and public engagement process "Household Energy from 2011", with a description of process and findings.  There are links to other documents about this process here. [Transparency alert - I worked on the Supplier Obligation project.]
  • An independent evaluation report about the SDC's Engagement in Tidal Power process, which brought together stakeholders and the public to think about criteria and issues in harnessing power from the tides.
  • The groundbreaking and really rather wonderful (for process geeks) guidance on designing engagement, published by the SDC but drawing on pioneering work done by InterAct Networks (Lindsey Colbourne, Lynn Wetenhall, Jeff Bishop, Richard Harris and others) and developed through practitioners at the Environment Agency among others. This work continues, for example through work Sciencewise-ERC has done with DECC.
  • Some specific gems from this guidance include 'engagement and the policy making cycle' and a 'typology of engagement' and some definitions of different kinds of engagement. [More transparency - I work regularly with Sciencewise-ERC and as of 2011 am a Director of InterAct Networks]

Add your wisdom

This has been a very rapid post, and most of the examples and ideas are those which I'm personally familiar with. There must be lots of others, including some great compilation resources. Please use the comments space to link to your favourites and to critique what I've posted here.

 

Make more progress in changing your organisation!

There's a typical pattern for sustainability change agents: enthusiastic spotting of an opportunity to change (a solution) followed by a flurry of activity and then the obstables begin to show themselves. Then it can go two ways:

  • reflecting on the 'stuckness', exploring it and finding a way beyond it,

  • giving up.

Actually, you need to see the obstacles clearly to be able to deal with them, but that doesn't stop people feeling downhearted if they'd set out imagining no obstacles at all!

Theories for the perplexed

I find it reassuring when a bit of theory (or framework, model, checklist) explains that the low points are predictable, expected and indeed part of the journey.

And theories can also help us make sense of a complex reality, find the patterns in chaos, see "what's really going on here" and understand our unconscious assumptions.  If we bring them to conscious attention, we can make choices about doing things differently. Our assumptions might be about organisations (what they are, how they work, what's amenable to change), or people (how to interact respectfully whilst intending things to change) or sustainability (what might the journey look like, how you know you're going in the right direction).

And like the man said, there's nothing so practical as a good theory. (The man in question being Kurt Lewin, social psychologist, of the unfreeze-change-refreeze model.)

So I've assembled some bits of theory which I find particularly useful and popped them in a slide show here:

Organisational change theory 2011 generic

 

View more presentations from PennyWalker

There should be some notes pages with more explanation and references, but I haven't managed to get Slide Share to show these yet. So here's a pdf with the notes.  This is a presentation I give at the fabulous Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business course, developed and run by CPSL and Forum for the Future.

Ideas into action

So theories are all very well, but what might it mean for your situation? I love to help people work out what their next steps might be, and a good way of doing this has proved to be the one-day Change Management for Sustainable Development workshop I developed and run with the IEMA.

We've got one in London on May 25th. So why not come along and we can help each other use some practical theories to make more progress? You can book here.

What if our conversations were deep, open?

I've met some interesting and challenging facilitators recently who have helped me reframe and explore my facilitation work and my sustainable development aims. Our conversations together have been so refreshing and enriching, we wondered if it might be possible to open them up to a wider group...

So we have created Deep Open.

It's a one-day workshop for people who are interested in groups, conversation, change and sustainable development.  We hope to enable conversations which allow us to be aware of our feelings (physical and emotional), alert to difference and conflict, challenging and honest.  We're going to experiment with having our feelings rather than letting our feelings have us.  We're going to experiement with not distracting ourselves when things feel uncomfortable.  We're going to try to resist being task-focussed, whilst staying together with purpose.

If you are intruiged by this - rather than irritated - then you might want to join us on 19th May in London for this workshop.

We're running the event in conjunction with AMED. The others involved are Johnnie Moore, Debbie Warrener and Luke Razzell.

What does sustainability mean to your organisation?

When the new editor of the environmentalist, Paul Suff, asked me to write a kind of 'how to' article on understanding what sustainability means to an organisation, it took me some time to figure out how to make it fit into a two-page article. I'm pleased with the overall framework, and the questions which it seems to all boil down to:

  • What's the best thing we can do?
  • What's the best way we can do it?
“Ask yourself what sustainability means for your organisation, because finding the answer is one of the biggest contributions you can make to building a sustainable future.  
When you ask what sustainability means for your organisation, you are effectively asking: “what’s the best thing we can do?” and “what’s the best way we can do it?”.  These questions get to the heart of the organisation’s purpose and activities, daring us to reinvent them for the world of tomorrow, where the purpose responds perfectly to the environmental and social context and is delivered with the best possible impacts.  You will find the answers in conversations with other people: colleagues, critics and stakeholders”

See what you think: access a pdf of the article here.

This is the first edition of the environmentalist under its new editorship, and you can access the whole mag for a limited time here.